Playwright Sheila Callaghan (writer/producer of Showtime’s Shameless) morphs memes into scenes in the delicious Chicago premiere of Women Laughing Alone with Salad.
Guy (Japhet Balaban) is EveryGuy, a dope-smoking dilettante surrounded by female archetypes: his Lululemon roommate Tori (Danielle Pereira), the Rubenesque club-goer Meredith (Echaka Agba), and his youth-obsessed mother Sandy (Jennifer Engstrom), accompanied by the ongoing theme of “being smothered in a maternal bosom.”
The dude is the nexus, but these are women’s stories (under the direction of female Devon de Mayo), their “greatest dreams and worst nightmares,” a bittersweet exploration of societal expectations and constrictions, of three-dimensional people who are “tired of being someone I’m not.” Everyone wants what they don’t have, underscored by the Stepford-smiling photos projected behind them—first on three skewed screens, which become straightened in the second act (on a somewhat cramped, simple, tripartite set by Arnel Sancianco).
The script scans hip and millennial, “21st century schizoid,” with NYC references (might have been fun to tailor to Chicago locales), and ranges from a hilarious greens-munching opening to “The Dance of the Seven Lettuces” (with a dash of dressing and undressing), and a faux commercial for Effervatol, which anesthetizes women of means “because Yorkies die.” The characters basically speak the subtext of their various relationships, confronting the elusive and unreal expectations of beauty for Team Estrogen at all ages and socio-economic strata.
The salad is shame in a bowl: culturally acceptable, colorful and noisy, yet rarely fully nutritious or completely satisfying. These folks cannot live on greens alone, despite what propaganda social media feeds them.
After a surprising , refreshing second act (no spoilers!), this conclusion is mixed in: women are aspirational, modern and responsible. And this play, updated to keep pace with the #MeToo movement, offers an amuse-bouche to prepare for a heartier discussion about gender parity.
Women Laughing Alone with Salad runs at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., has been extended through May 12. (For mature audiences.) Buy tickets online or call 773-975-8150; prices are $12-70. Tickets for women are discounted to correct for the 79% wage gap between the genders in Illinois (e.g. a $24 ticket for a male-identifying patron will cost a female-identifying patron $19).